REAPsystems deploying 'drop-in' hybrid propulsion in Venice


(SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom) — This summer, REAPsystems is pioneering clean, green "drop-in" hybrid technology in a Venice water taxi and is inviting members of the public to get involved and help make it a reality through a crowdfunding campaign.

Why, when "clean and green" has taken off on the roads, has water transport lagged so far behind? And what could change it?

“The industry has been caught by a circular argument," said Dr. Dennis Doerffel of REAPsystems. "There’s been nothing that the customers can buy off the shelf, but the big manufacturers haven’t offered a product because there’s no queue of customers.” Moreover, he adds, in some quarters there is now cynicism because of the failure of publicly funded initiatives that simply didn’t have commercial viability. However, he believes a new "drop-in" hybrid could break the cycle.

Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage City, has approximately 20,000 leisure craft and 550 taxi boats to serve its tourist industry of 32 million visitors a year. All are currently diesel-driven, meaning Venice suffers from alarming levels of air and noise pollution, as well as the vibration of these engines, all of which dramatically effect the canal water, city architecture and human health.

REAPsystems is developing a "drop-in" hybrid-drive system for easy installation in Venice's existing water taxis, meaning that the current fleet can be quickly and easily converted to provide cleaner, greener transport.

“The city, its residents and visitors will benefit from reduced air, water and noise pollution; its taxi operators will get lower fuel consumption, operating costs and overall cost of ownership plus greater reliability and longer life without sacrificing performance; drivers and their passengers will also enjoy the comfort of a hybrid taxi boat with minimum noise, vibration and emissions," said Doerffel. "Venice represents a tough testing ground: a standard 9-meter taxi boat typically has long, hard 20-hour daily duties and has to manage speeds below 3 knots as well as powering up beyond 30 knots for fast, planing transits outside of the confines of the canals. This provides a perfect opportunity to highlight the many environmental and commercial benefits of our REAPsystems hybrid technology, as well as proving its reliability and longevity in this challenging environment.”

Furthermore, the timing is right: Venice authorities are planning to release new legislation concerning waterborne traffic in the lagoon at the end of 2016. With a hybrid demonstrator operating in the lagoon proving its environmental benefits during the peak summer months, REAPsystems hopes to influence the legislation to favor the uptake of the technology and move the market forward.

To create a prototype, REAPsystems has acquired a 9-meter taxi boat and is designing this drop-in installation to fit the standard architecture and engine layout.

This is a parallel system, using a Hyundai diesel engine (limited in size by current Venice regulation) paired with a lithium battery array and control unit, although the concept will be capable of being applied to other engines. Both diesel and electric units are connected to a MerCruiser stern drive.

Therefore the engine can be "clutched out" to allow a purely electric drive to take over at the lower speeds for which diesel power is inefficient, while during medium- to high-speed transits the batteries can be recharged to allow for efficient engine loading. At top speeds the electric drive may also be used to boost clean acceleration.

In designing the system, REAPsystems has augmented its expertise in hybrid technology with other specialist input from partner organizations such as diesel manufacturer Hyundai, Southampton University and RIB maker Scorpion.

Doerffel said the crowdfunding approach is “a complete reversal of the usual commercial approach which relies on keeping the intellectual property hidden." He believes that the need to kick-start the hybrid industry depends on a different technique which will open up the arena as reward support: Depending on the size of the donation, funders will be given anything from Venice taxi boat rides to a free holiday in return from one of the industry partners.

The longer term aim is to demonstrate the potential environmental and technical impact for this technology in other parts of the world by applying it to other types of boat: top of the list would be 10-meter to 15-meter monohulls, while it would also include power catamarans over 12 meters, which embraces workboats such as wind farm support vessels.

However, there are also reasons to look further at what the drop-in technology could also give to patrol craft, small passenger ferries and fishing boats, as well as its application to tightly environmentally regulated locations such as Amsterdam.

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By Professional Mariner Staff